Category Archives: Holidays

Celebrating the Red, White, and Blue

My elementary school teachers referred to today as Independence Day. My family called it the Fourth of July. Businesses closed for the day. Even then, the US flag with 48 white stars on a field of blue flanked by red and white stripes waved in the wind, or hung limp, on flagpoles depending on the presence or absence of a breeze. My family picnicked that day.

Our destination was random, usually beside a gentle river. The men fished. Ladies spread tablecloths while keeping a watchful eye on the children wading in the shallow water. Mothers were prepared with an iron skillet, cornmeal, and grease for a fish fry, but experience had taught them to be resourceful. About lunchtime with no sign of fish, they put fried chicken and potato salad on the colorful tablecloths. And, of course, a homemade birthday cake for my oldest brother’s youngest son. At home later that evening as darkness closed in, a few disobedient children in my neighborhood set off firecrackers. The rest of us waved lit sparklers with mothers chaperoning nearby.

One year, there was no family celebration. Among the many reasons, one of my married brothers owned a farm and another worked at a dairy. “We have to work,” they said. “Cows don’t take holidays.”

For several years, strangers have blocked my street at dusk, waiting for darkness. From tailgate parties to individuals in lawn chairs, they ate and drank and celebrated while waiting for the downtown fireworks to begin. Tonight my street is quiet. There will be no fireworks because of the coronavirus shelter-in-place order.

This morning, I thought of the cows when I tied red, white, and blue ribbons on my door beneath a computer-generated sign that proclaimed Happy Fourth of July. My own quiet celebration.

 

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Southern Greenhorn and a Green Ham

I grew up in California with transplanted southern parents. I didn’t realize they had accents because they sounded similar to dozens of other families in our small town that had migrated west from Oklahoma and Arkansas. They adapted to California words, as much as could be expected from folks in their mid-forties and fifties. My mother fried eggs in bacon grease and used lard in her flaky piecrusts. She made hogshead cheese, too, but that’s a post for another time. She baked hams, usually the shank portion because they were cheaper. I thought I had heard every southern cooking term, then I married a military man from the South. He spoke of foods I’d never imagined.

Jambalaya, crawfish pie, and filé gumbo. Yes, foods but words from a song, but I didn’t know that, either, until years later when we relocated to Louisiana. There’s where this greenhorn first heard the words “green ham” one winter when I was preparing a Christmas menu. How would I find it if I didn’t know what it looked like?

“Just ask our butcher. He’ll know.”

Courtesy: Wiki Clip Art

Not a soothing answer, but I drove the few blocks to a full butcher shop where the meats were custom cut, never prepackaged. I plastered a smile on my face, pretended I knew what I wanted, and asked for a green ham large enough for eight with leftovers. Imagine my surprise when he brought an uncured ham from the cooler, a cut of pork my mother called a fresh ham.

And filé gumbo. That’s a seasoning powder made from dried, ground sassafras leaves, sprinkled over gumbo before it is served.

I’m thankful that wasn’t on the Christmas menu. One new southern cooking term at a time was enough for this California transplant.

 

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Memorial Day at the Cemetery

Our neighbors took their kids to a lake or a far-away beach, visited family or friends, or had a picnic in the park on Memorial Day when I was young. Not my family. We dressed in church clothes for the somber ride to the local cemetery. We stood with hands over hearts when the American Legion color guard marched on the road parallel to graves where miniature flags on veterans’ graves waved in the wind. The mournful sound of taps was a bone-chilling reminder of lives lost in wars and those who returned home and lived a long life buried among the fallen heroes.

My mother called the May 30 holiday Decoration Day, the name it was until 1967 when Memorial Day became a legal holiday. And decorate we did. We had lovely roses in our yard—reds and whites and yellows—but Papa never let us cut a single stem. My mother honored that tradition. Every year after the military ceremonies ended, we decorated my father’s grave with homemade tissue paper flowers.

The Uniform Monday Holiday Act moved the celebration of honor from May 30 to the last Monday of May. In December 2000, Congress passed another law—unknown by most people—that all Americans should pause at 3:00 p.m. on Memorial Day to honor the fallen.

The Shelter-in-Place mandate continues in the San Francisco Bay Area. There were no parades, no cemetery ceremonies. But there is still time for quiet reflection.

 

 

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Eat and Hush

Mama loved Easter when her children and grandchildren gathered to celebrate. On Saturday, Mama fried chicken or baked a ham and made mashed potato or macaroni salad. For dessert, she alternated between pies and cakes, depending on what food supplies she had. She boiled eggs, at least two dozen. We colored them while Papa worked outside. Before my twin and I arose on Easter Sunday, Mama hid those eggs in the yard. We had our first egg hunt dressed in our Easter outfits for church.

After church, Mama packed the food with utensils in an open cardboard box and covered it with a tablecloth while we waited for our ride to the family picnic. Most years, the gathering was near Raymond, California, about a half-hour from home. Cars parked on the roadside, and we climbed down the rocky hill to a clear stream.

Papa went to the picnic begrudgingly because he didn’t celebrate Easter. He went to church that Sunday because he went to church every Sunday. Every year as Mama sewed new dresses for my twin and me, Papa reminded us that Easter Sunday didn’t deserve any attention because it was a pagan celebration.

At the picnic, we loaded our plates with food and perched on rocks or sometimes found a flat place. Mama offered Papa a plate, but he always declined with a silent shake of his head. After lunch, all the kids played in the water.

At home after the Easter celebration, Mama removed the plate of food she had prepared for Papa from the refrigerator and placed it on the kitchen table. While he ate, she hid Easter eggs in our front yard, away from his view, for our second hunt of the day.

The following week, Mama peeled away any hint of Easter and served those boiled eggs with our meals. Papa never suspected they were part of the Easter celebration that Mama loved so much. Or, if he did, he pretended not to notice because one of his frequent admonitions to the twins if we asked questions about leftovers was “Eat and hush.”

 

 

 

 

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Thou Shalt Not

“Limit 1” is a familiar sign during the Shelter-in-Place mandate in the San Francisco Bay Area. “Limit 2” for eggs and milk is like winning a door prize. Watching someone else take the last package of toilet tissue is a reminder of the biblical ten commandments my father repeated every time I wanted something like the neighbor’s kids or my classmates.

I turned the pages of the Sears & Roebuck catalog with longing, a faraway look in my eyes as I imagined myself in one of the frilly Easter dresses. “I wish, I had _____” was always met with a stern look from my father. “Thou shalt not covet.” I considered his words. “But, Papa, I wouldn’t have to covet if you let Mama order it for me.”

For my parents who had endured the World War II rations, a chicken pen full of laying hens, a garden and fruit trees, and an infrequent trip to Red’s Market for Mama’s cooking needs of flour and sugar and lard were sufficient. The butcher always greeted my parents by last name and waited while they surveyed the meats behind the glass. Mama usually chose pork roast for a special meal or pork steaks to fry in the evening. Baloney was a requirement when they had work picking cotton. Papa added a small slab of salt pork when the home supply dwindled. His eyes roamed over the wheels of cheese and hesitated only a moment—not long enough to covet—before he asked for a small wedge of cheddar. Mama asked the butcher if he could spare a few feet of clean paper. I savored the sound of the paper ripping against the black metal tear bar.

At home, I flipped pages of the latest Sears catalog, folded down the top corner of a page, and waited until Mama was alone. I flipped the page open, pointed to the dress I wanted, and handed her the book.

I smiled and skipped away. I knew Mama would buy similar material from the local five and dime store and cut a homemade pattern from the butcher paper. I would have a new Easter dress without coveting.

Things are not so different now. Instead of an Easter dress, my “Thou-shalt-not” test is to wear a home-sewn face mask without coveting the last package of toilet tissue being wheeled away in another shopper’s cart.

 

 

 

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SIP Countdown: Day Three or Maybe Day Four

I received the Shelter in Place (SIP) Alameda County mandate by telephone at 2:55 p.m. on Monday, March 16, 2020. I didn’t count that as the first day of confinement because I had been out most of the morning scouring the neighborhood for groceries. Some are marking today,  March 19, as Day Four—perhaps to be optimistic—but I don’t see it that way.

In my March 17 blog, posted about 2:30 p.m., I counted St. Patrick’s Day as the first day of solitary confinement based on the 24-hour system. Yesterday, March 18, after a full day of confinement, I entered the new world of grocery shoppers. At Costco, I gloved-up and pushed a shopping cart to the back of the long line. Maintaining the recommended social distance was impossible, but the huge carts provided four feet between shoppers.

A handwritten sign at the door listed the out-of-stock items from toilet tissue and paper towels to children’s Tylenol. Inside, I touched only what went into my basket. “Limit one per membership” was posted above basics like bottled water, rice, cooking oil, laundry soap, and bleach.

This morning, the guideline for marking time, “And the evening and the morning were the first day[1],” tells me this is Day Three. I’ll compromise with the Day Four people who claimed the first day at 12:01 p.m. on March 16, less than twelve hours after the proclamation. For me, Day Four begins at 2:30 p.m., today, Pacific Daylight Time, on this first day of Spring which began at 2:01 a.m.

 

 

 

[1] And God called the light Day, and the darkness he called Night. And the evening and the morning were the first day. Genesis 1:5, Holy Bible, King James Version (KJV)

 

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Word of the Year 2020

I greeted this new year by reflecting on past accomplishments and shortcomings. Determined not to make a new year’s resolution, I looked for a motivational word to focus on the positive in 2020. An online quiz analyzed my responses to ten questions and gave me a list of words. None were inspirational or motivational, so I consulted the dictionary.

Purpose seems like a solid word for 2020. Merriam-Webster Dictionary defines purpose as “something set up as an object or end to be attained.” Secondary definitions include determination. Another solid word. Then I considered my novel. That triggered hindsight as a possibility because hindsight is 20/20. It makes no mistakes. Merriam-Webster lists the phrase as twenty-twenty hindsight, but the definition is clear.

The full knowledge and complete understanding that one has about an event only after it has happened.

A head-turner but not motivational because I would be looking over my shoulder instead of focusing on the future of this book.

That shifted my focus from revising my crime fiction draft manuscript to revisiting my characters. I think of revisit as having tea or lunch with an old friend at a table near the restaurant fireplace on a cold winter day. We’ll chat about the good times, but things that we wish had been different are sure to surface in the conversation. That’s the difference in revisiting a friend and revisiting my manuscript.

My friend and I can’t change the past. My novel characters and I can.

 

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Winter Wonderland

Snow, icicles, and cold-weather sports like sledding come to mind with the words winter wonderland. These seldom occur in the San Francisco Bay area where I live. But only days before the holiday decorating contest was announced, I saw snow miles away atop the Santa Cruz Mountains. That triggered the design for my door.

Beyond knitting winter hats for the homeless and baby hats and booties for an expectant mothers’ program, my creativity is restricted to my computer keyboard.  But the white mountaintops seemed to be a sign that I should at least enter the handcrafted contest. That evening, a winter scene popped into my head.

The next afternoon, I returned from my crafting shopping trip with the winter wonderland basics of poster board, construction paper, wired ribbon, cotton balls, and Elmer’s glue. I pulled out the green frame that I usually decorate with artificial red poinsettias. Instead, I cut the poster board to fit the round center. That’s when I discovered I had no ice pick to punch the holes to sew the yarn to the metal. Ever try punching holes in poster board with a tapestry needle?

After a tedious battle with needle and yarn, I glued cotton balls to the poster board to create a hill of snow. Then I topped the cotton with a dry Swifter pad to create a  curved pathway made by previous sleds. Oh, oh. The piles of snow were level with the sled path. So, I added more cotton balls to pile the snow higher on each side for the required 3-D element.

Next step, build a sled from stirring sticks. I had nothing strong enough to cut the wooden sticks. After a lengthy struggle with the wood, a homemade sled emerged. I tied the sled to the top of the frame.

Two purchased ornaments were allowed, so I crocheted a thick string from colorful yarn to tie a  snowman to the top of wreath above the sled. Fortunately, that snowman came with a bonus. A magnet attached a second seated snowman to the metal bucket with a sign, “Snowballs 5 cents.” The second snowman sat on the sled.  Done, I hung it from a green metal door hanger. Done.

Not yet. The clouds were flat. I didn’t want to add cotton balls, so I cut large paper snowflakes in various designs and glued them to the clouds above the sledding snowmen. Then I added a few springs of evergreens above the ribbon bow.  It definitely fit the homemade guideline. Done at last. I hung the wreath on a green hook on the door.

Other doors decorated with bright red and green purchased decorations looked so much more professional. I was tempted to remove my wreath, but I had invested too much time to remove it until New Year’s Day.

The prize winners were announced during a holiday party.  And the first place winner is . . .

Violet . . .

because she met all the guidelines for a handcrafted winter wonderland.

Back to knitting. Next year, I’ll display the same decoration with a sign:  2019 Winter Wonderland First Place Winner.

 

 

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Skipping Black Friday repost

Thanks to a reader alert, I’m reposting Skipping Black Friday because autocorrect didn’t like my book title, Moments of Meditation. Even now, autocorrect insists that I can’t spell repast.

I eased into the center lanes when the right-turn lanes on Eastbound I-580 stalled behind vehicles inching toward the exit for the San Francisco Premium Outlets several miles ahead. A glance to my far right as I drove by the massive mall showed automobiles circling, the drivers desperate for a parking space. Why the frenzy? Designer brands at bargain rates up to 50% off. But could it be more about the hype than the discounts? More hooked on Black Friday?

I smiled as I journeyed home from volunteering at a Thanksgiving charitable event. The attendees were grateful for the free sit-down meal ordered from a brief menu, each course served at their cloth-covered tables on real plates, with stemmed glasses, and stainless utensils (no paper or plastic).

I didn’t cook or serve. My part was easier than that. I signed and gave away my book, Moments of Meditation, to those who couldn’t afford to shop on this early Black Friday and to the volunteers who could have shopped at the outlet mall but chose to make this a true Thanksgiving for others.

 

 

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Skipping Black Friday

I eased into the center lanes when the right-turn lanes on Eastbound I-580 stalled behind vehicles inching toward the exit for the San Francisco Premium Outlets several miles ahead. A glance to my far right as I drove by the massive mall showed automobiles circling, the drivers desperate for a parking space. Why the frenzy? Designer brands at bargain rates up to 50% off. But could it be more about the hype than the discounts? More hooked on Black Friday?

I smiled as I journeyed home from volunteering at a Thanksgiving charitable event. The attendees were grateful for the free sit-down meal ordered from a brief menu, each course served at their cloth-covered tables on real plates, with stemmed glasses, and stainless utensils (no paper or plastic).

I didn’t cook or serve. My part was easier than that. I signed and gave away my book, Moments of Medication, to those who couldn’t afford to shop on this early Black Friday and to the volunteers who could have shopped at the outlet mall but chose to make this a true Thanksgiving for others.

 

 

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